Have you ever heard the phrase you catch more flies with honey? Besides being a pearl of wisdom, this old adage speaks to human nature. It tells us that we get more of what we want by being kind and sweet. What if that honey wasn’t just about being kind and sweet? What if that honey was being grateful and what we wanted to gain was a greater sense of happiness?
Teaching children to be grateful for the things they have can actually make them happier. When children appreciate and are thankful for what is given to them they feel content, whole, fulfilled. These feelings then lead to greater sense of well-being and happiness. On the other hand, when children are not grateful and instead seek to have more, they often are left with a sense of longing and emptiness. They create a pattern of never feeling satiated and that there is never enough to help them feel better.
Therefore, teaching children a sense of gratitude is paramount to happiness and success. Does it go beyond teaching them to say thank you? According to parent.com the answer is yes. Parent.com gives us some great tips for teaching gratitude:
- Work gratitude into your daily conversation. "We're so lucky to have a good cat like Sam!" "Aren't the colors in the sunset amazing?" Set up a routine talking as a family for what you are thankful for. This normalizes the process of gratitude and shifts the conversation from what is wrong or what you don’t have to being thankful for all you do have.
- Have kids help. Giving children chores around the house that are suitable for their developmental level is extremely helpful for them to learn gratitude. Children can be appreciative when they realize what it takes to run a household. Simple everyday things can do the trick. Such chores as feeding the dog, transferring the clothes from the washer to the dryer, pulling weeds, or putting your plate in the dishwasher can go far in teaching this lesson.
- Find a goodwill project. This doesn’t have to be taking on a big project. It can be taking clothes to Goodwill, taking canned food to the food bank, or helping a neighbor with their yard work. Its important to talk about why you are doing it and why you are thankful for what you have.
- Encourage generosity. Giving to others is powerful. Encourage sharing what you have with others. If you do not have much, encourage sharing your time, energy, and creativity. Again, speak directly to what you are doing and why.
- Insist on thank-you notes. For little ones, this can be you writing the note and they drawing a picture or signing their name. For older kids, carve out time for them to do this and make it personal. They should address it to the person and specifically thank them for the item they received. Teaching children to write thank you notes of gifts can be a powerful lesson.
- Practice saying no. Children who never hear the word “no,” never learn to have self-discipline. If children are granted all their heart desires they will have a hard time appreciating what they have as they learn to expect the next toy, cookie, or video game.
“I can’t do it.”
“It’s too hard.”
We hear these statements from children throughout the day. It’s not only a comment about the difficult task at hand, it is actually an opportunity to teach children about resiliency, how to take on challenges, how to make mistakes, and how to have a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset and teaching children how to solve problems leads to greater success and future ability to solve problems.
Carol Dweck of Stanford University asserts that teaching children that intelligence is not a “fixed” state helps them understand that through effort they can grow and become successful. This gives them a sense of control in their world. Intelligence is not something that you are just born with and you are lucky or not in the brain department. Instead, working to teach children to adopt a growth mindset will help them be more successful and more resilient. A growth mindset asserts that intelligence is not solely innate and that you can increase your capacity, “build your brain”, by working to learn new things. It encourages taking on new challenges in spite of potential failure. The state of mind promotes flexibility and engagement. A fixed mindset teaches children to care about being “smart” or “not smart.” This mindset inhibits learning and discourages taking learning risks, because if you can’t do something right away, the child equates it to not being smart. It’s not safe to try something that might be difficult.
What we know as adults is that no one becomes successful without work, risk, and failure. Making mistakes is a part of life and teaching children this is a powerful lesson. It is essential to teach children that life is full of challenges and indeed it is important how we tackle these challenges and how we bounce back from hardship. The message becomes practice makes better not practice makes perfect. Look for progress, not perfection.
Steps to fostering a growth mindset in children:
- Praise the process and effort, not the product. Say to children, “Wow, you worked really hard on that project” as opposed to “your project looks great.”
- Create and model a culture of making mistakes and learning from them.
- Help children identify when they have a fixed mindset and move them to a growth mindset.
- Model resilience and problem solving.
- Give children the opportunity to solve their own problems.
A man's mistakes are his portals of discovery. - James Joyce
Recently several teachers and myself attended a wonderful conference in San Francisco called Learning and the Brain. This particular brain conference focused on social-emotional learning and what we know about the brain. Self-regulation, cultivating happiness, and attention were large pieces of interest.
The process of cultivating happiness in children isn’t as elusive as once thought. What we know is that people who are happy have four key elements. These are having a growth mindset, a sense of gratitude, living in and embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline.
Although, many people would agree these are wonderful traits to have in a social context what I find most intriguing is their impact on brain development. Children’s brains have great plasticity. Their brains are changing and growing and are very malleable at this young age. David Walsh says, “the neurons that fire together, wire together.” Simply speaking, the repeated connections we make create long lasting effects in brain development. If we help children’s neurons fire with these four elements in mind, their brains are going to create a tendency to do be this way as they age.
Mental health professionals have known for years about this phenomenon but have never given it such specificity. We know that when a brain is traumatized it “rewires” itself. Part of trauma work is getting the brain to wire itself back into a more calm state of existence. People who have experienced trauma are more hyper-vigilant and have a higher sensitivity to environmental stimulus. We know that people who have long histories of depression have a tendency to think depressively and we work to rewrite the cognitive tapes they tell themselves. With enough practice the depressed individual can think more positively.
Therefore, the link can be made that the four elements of having a growth mindset, feeling gratitude, embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline can greatly effect brain development. Having these neurons firing together and making connections can make a more functional and hopefully happier adult. Stay tuned for more details about each of the four elements in the coming Crier J
Personal Resiliency Builders
Environmental Protective Factors
From the Winter 2011-12 Caller
What is resiliency?
Is resiliency an innate trait?
What we can do as a community to help children recover from hardships?
Kristin, how do you teach Middle Schoolers about resiliency?
Kate, do we have that kind of training in Upper School?
Is resiliency connected with bullying and victimhood?
Do you see kids building confidence when they learn how to cope?
Can resiliency be confused with just letting kids fail?
What do we do well as a school to build resiliency in our students?
So if they feel successful, it becomes easier to carry on.
Does the focus on resiliency tie into overprotectiveness?
Tis the Season
- Avoid the curse of the “Perfect Holiday.” As one parent recently told me, “I would love to have a Martha Stewart Christmas tree, but I know that’s not going to happen so I am just letting it go.” Nothing is ever perfect and we can’t expect the holidays to be any different. Just know that there will be ups and downs and that some plans will work out and others will not. Notice the simple things. I just had a very excited second grader stop me in the fir grove to show me his wiggly tooth. We sat for a couple minutes and talked about how losing teeth is so much fun!
- Take a big deep breath. Taking time to relax and breathe can be invaluable for reducing your stress. The effect that deep breathing and muscle relaxation has on your body can not be disputed. Take time for that hot bath, vegging out in front of the television, taking a nice long walk, or listening to your favorite music. Not only will this help you cope with stress but it provides a great model for your children to learn to cope with stress. If you have a 2nd grader, talk to them about their Emotional Tool Bag or as one student calls it her “Cope Kit.”
- Do something as a family that is all about having fun and not about getting anything DONE. Go to Mt. Hood and have a snowball fight or go sledding for the day. Head to the Oregon Zoo or drive around and look at Christmas lights. Make sure the family knows the only goal is to have fun, not to get something done, buy one more present, or attend one more social engagement.
Dr. Kathy Masarie spoke at a Catlin Gabel parent community meeting in November 2011 about the courage it takes to foster resiliency in children, and how parents can model autheticity, honesty, and self-care. Click on the audio file below to hear her presentation (1 hour, 21 minutes).
A parent recently came to talk to me about how she has moved through a wonderful journey of worrying about her child who has ADHD to feeling that in many ways it is a blessing. It is my belief that parents go through a series of steps when they learn their child may have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). In the beginning, parents may feel a sense of denial or panic. Some parents may feel alone or become amazing information seekers. Either way there is often an initial struggle while coming to terms with what the diagnosis means.
October 16-22 is ADHD Awareness week. Although medical and mental health professional know lots about the disorder, many families dealing with ADHD feel that they are alone. With proper education and networking with others this no longer has to be the case.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder limits children’s ability to filter out irrelevant input, focus, organize, prioritize, delay gratification, think before they act, or perform other so-called executive functions that most of us perform automatically.” It speaks to reason that many children exhibit this form of distractibility. However, ADHD causes distress and impairs the child’s ability to function and learn academically. The symptoms of ADHD are excessive, pervasive, and persistent. Although many of us are distracted from time to time, living with ADHD can be quite overwhelming.
What we know about ADHD is that it does not discriminate and affects people of all ages, races, genders, intellectual ability, and socio-economic backgrounds. The CDC reports that in 2011, 9.5% of children in the United States had been diagnosed with ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD is a complex process that should not be entered into lightly. It requires looking at variety of symptoms that cause impairment in major life areas and have persisted for a minimum of six months. A good diagnosis relies on variety of tools that might include observations across a variety of contexts, the implementation of screening tools, and ruling out other issues that might appear like ADHD such as Sensory Integration Disorder.
Treatment for ADHD is a continuum from least restrictive to most. Often times, the first round of treatment is taking an inventory of what behavioral strategies can be employed and educating the child on ADHD and strategies for coping with the deficit. Changes to the environment or adding tools to the child’s repertoire might also be helpful. Using a collaborative process and taking stock of what works for the child and what doesn’t work is a good strategy. If these approaches are not making enough difference a behavioral plan might be created to help the child be successful. External rewards can be given to help motivate the child and help them use the tools being coached. An additional approach can be medications helping stimulate the executive functioning portion of the brain. The most typical and successful form of treatment is a combination of these methods.
ADHD Awareness Week is an opportunity to reduce stigma and to learn the facts about the disorder and how it affects the community. Log onto www.adhdawarenessweek.org for more information.
By Allen Schauffler & Jonathan Weedman
From the Spring 2010 Caller
Preschool teacher Allen Schauffler has been at Catlin Gabel for 42 years. Jonathan Weedman is the Beginning and Lower School counselor at Catlin Gabel. He has worked with children, youth, and families in the Portland area for the last 10 years.
Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo
Just like learning reading, writing, and math children must sometimes learn the art of making friends. Making friends is a complex social skill which can take lots of practice. The main friendship making skills according to Elaine K. McEwan are:
- Meeting New People
- Introducing two people who don’t know each other
- Starting a conversation (entering a group)
- Listening to a conversation
- Keeping a conversation going
- Waiting your turn to say something
- Ending a conversation
Skills for Interacting with Peers
- Handling being teased
- Saying No
- Joining a group
- Letting people know what you think and believe even with disagreement
- Handling peer pressure
- Giving a compliment
- Accepting a compliment
- Playing group game or activity
- Handle being left out
- Handing someone asking you to do something you cant because you don’t know how
- Seeking Help from Peers
- Asking a question
- Saying Thank You
- Keeping a secret
Skills for Controlling Emotions
- Identifying and expressing emotions
- Handling other peoples anger
- Handling your own anger
- Handling other people’s failure
- Handing your own failure
- Handing losing
- Expressing affection
- Dealing fear
- Rewarding yourself
- Using self-control
- Handing embarrassment
- Accepting no
Consider these skills when talking to your child about making friends. Explain, model, and practice the skill together. Once you feel they have a good grasp on the concept encourage them to go into the "real world" and give it a shot! Be sure to debrief with them afterwards and offer specific advice to help them hone this skill set.
Photo by crirez
In the last few weeks, the 4th grade class was blessed with their Catlin Gabel email accounts. Not only does this allow your student to communicate via another medium it also gives them the opportunity for added responsibility. With enough preparation and planning children can learn to use the internet in safe and productive ways.
Transparency is of utmost importance when talking about the internet and/or computer usage with children. Regardless of what boundaries you decide are appropriate for your family, complete informed consent is important for all family members. Let your children know that you will be periodically checking their conversations over email and that you will be checking the history on the computer browser. The second most important component of establishing boundaries around internet usage is consistency of structure. No matter what you decide, make sure the rule applies at all times with no exceptions. The final component for setting up internet guidelines is to start early! The younger your children are when you set up these family internet rules the better. Normalizing such guidelines will make it easier for them when they reach adolescence and are given more online freedom. Be sure to let your children know the timeline and that these rules can be reviewed and more freedom maybe granted when you feel its appropriate based on their trustworthiness and maturity level. Here are some general internet usage tips for home.
1.Transparency. It is important to be completely up front with your children about the fact that you want to know what they are doing and where they are going when they are on the internet. Tell them you are monitoring their usage to ensure they learn to make the right choices.
2.Understand what your child is doing. In addition to monitoring your child’s internet behavior, you should also work to understand what your child’s activities are. Find out what they are doing online and why they are doing it. The more you know what your child is doing and the more you discuss it, the better the chances that your child will trust you and share his/her online life with you. This is the time to build that foundation of trust while your child is just beginning to explore online life.
3.Locate the computer in a public place. The computer they work on should be in a public place of the house at all times. This allows you to casually view what they are viewing. Children who have laptops and have access to wireless connections should never be allowed to use their laptops alone in their bedrooms. Limit online access to times when parents are around.
4.Teach your children to never give out personal information. This includes his/her name, the names of friends or family, address, phone number, school name (or team name if he/she plays sports). Personal info also includes pictures and e-mail addresses. Children should ask permission before sharing any information online. Passwords are secrets. Your child should never tell anyone except a parent or guardian his/her password.
5.If it doesn't look or feel right, it probably isn't. Trust your instincts and teach your kids to trust theirs. While surfing the Internet, if your child finds something that they don't like, makes them feel uncomfortable or scares them, make sure they know to turn off the monitor and tell an adult.
6.Know all user names and passwords for your child’s email account. Let your child know that you will have access to their email and that you will periodically review what they are sending and receiving.
7.Restrict your child from using web-based emails accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc). Access to these types of email accounts prevent you from being in control. They have the power to change their passwords which could prevent you from viewing what they are sending and receiving.
8.Review internet history often. Let your child know that you will be reviewing the history of websites they are visiting. You should know where your child is at all times, in the real world as well as the virtual world.
9.Use online filtering systems to help your family avoid unwanted websites. Google Safe Search is such a tool and can help reduce the amount of inappropriate websites returned in a search.
10.Discuss email etiquette. Teach your child respect for the internet and email. Email can create an imaginary buffer between people and the real world. Children should be taught that how we speak to someone in real life should be the way they communicate in email.
11.Establish home rules for internet safety with your child and post them next to the computer. Discuss what the rules are and consequences of not adhering to those rules. Ideas for rules can be the amount of time spent on the Internet, time of day your child is allowed to be online, use of certain websites, downloading software, personal information that can be posted, what to do when coming across inappropriate material.
Photo by Olly Bennett
Resiliency is defined as our ability to "bounce back" from adversity. In my work in nonprofit mental health, I have been amazed to see how people are able to overcome intense trauma. It didn't take me long to realize that there has to be something psychological that help people over come difficulty. According to Nan Henderson, a renowned resiliency expert, we are "hard wired" to be resilient.
Parents and educators can build a child's resilience by reminding them that they are hard wired for bouncing back and in fact we can specifically point out for them how this happens. Whether it be about suffering an emotional blow from a friend or a big family change, children can learn to identify their individual personality traits which allow them to work through hard times and come out the other side stronger. As they grow they will learn to rely on these "protective factors" to help them cope.
According to Nan Henderson PERSONAL RESILIENCY BUILDERS or individual protective factors that facilitate resiliency are:
- Relationships -- Sociability/ability to be a friend/ability to form positive relationships
- Service -- Gives of self in service to others or a cause
- Life Skills -- Uses life skills, including good decision-making, assertiveness, and impulse control
- Humor -- Has a good sense of humor
- Inner Direction -- Bases choices/decisions on internal evaluation (internal locus of control)
- Perceptiveness -- Insightful understanding of people and situations
- Independence -- "Adaptive" distancing from unhealthy people and situations/autonomy
- Positive View of Personal Future -- Expects a positive future (Optimism)
- Flexibility -- Can adjust to change; can bend as necessary to positively cope with situations
- Love of Learning -- Capacity for & connection to learning
- Self-motivation -- Internal initiative, inner motivation
- Competence -- Is "good at something"/personal competence
- Self-Worth -- Feelings of self-worth and self-confidence
- Spirituality -- Personal faith in something greater
- Perseverance -- Keeps on despite difficulty; doesn't give up
- Creativity -- Expresses self through artistic endeavor
Adapted from the book, Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen for Students and Educators by Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein, published by Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA (2003, revised ed.).